Duke Energy Confirms Pollution of Groundwater, Stability Problems at Unlined Coal Ash Pits Across North Carolina

Dan River power plant, Duke Energy, Helicopter coal ash flyover. Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak.
Dan River power plant, Duke Energy, Helicopter coal ash flyover. Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak.

Duke Energy is polluting groundwater, damaging wetlands, and storing coal ash in unstable areas at unlined, leaking sites in North and South Carolina, according to its own recent filings required by the US federal Coal Combustion Rule.

Every Duke Energy coal ash site in the Carolinas is polluting groundwater, according to Duke Energy’s filings.  The only sites that are not polluting groundwater and violating the federal rule are those where Duke Energy has excavated all the coal ash.

To date, Duke Energy has refused to excavate its coal ash from six sites in North Carolina – Allen on Lake Wylie, Marshall on Lake Norman, Cliffside (Rogers) on the Broad River, and Mayo, Roxboro, and Belews Creek in the Dan River and Roanoke River Basins.  At every one of those sites, Duke Energy coal ash lagoons are polluting groundwater aquifers, and at Belews Creek, Marshall, Cliffside (Rogers), and Roxboro, Duke Energy admits that it is harming wetlands also.

The only coal ash lagoons that are not polluting groundwater, harming wetlands, or storing ash in unstable locations are one lagoon at Asheville and one at Cliffside (Rogers) from which all the coal ash already has been removed.

“In these filings, Duke Energy’s own engineers confirm that Duke Energy is storing coal ash in dangerous, leaking, and polluting pits,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “These admissions and Hurricane Florence make clear beyond any doubt that Duke Energy must move all its coal ash out of these unlined, leaking waterfront pits as soon as reasonably possible.  Leaving the ash in these unlined pits and putting a cap on top will not stop pollution of groundwater or wetlands.  The only safe, legal coal ash pits are the ones from which the coal ash has been removed.”

During Hurricane Florence, Duke Energy’s coal ash lagoon at its Sutton Plant in Wilmington was inundated by flood waters and spilled coal ash into the Cape Fear River.  These filings set out that Duke Energy’s Sutton coal ash lagoons are unstable, subject to seismic failure, damaging wetlands, and polluting the region’s aquifer.  Duke Energy’s old coal ash sites at its Lee plant near Goldsboro also were inundated during Hurricane Florence and released coal ash into the flood waters of the Neuse River.  Duke Energy’s filings confirm that its active Lee coal ash lagoon is damaging wetlands and polluting groundwater.

Duke Energy’s coal ash lagoon at Weatherspoon in Lumberton, NC, also failed the stability and seismic safety tests, in addition to polluting the region’s aquifer and harming wetlands.

In total, Duke Energy’s filings demonstrate that Duke Energy operates 24 coal ash lagoons in the Carolinas that are polluting aquifers, that 13 Duke Energy coal ash lagoons are damaging wetlands, and that three are unstable and also fail seismic safety tests.

Under a criminal plea agreement, court orders, settlement agreements with conservation groups, regulatory requirements, and legislation, Duke Energy is now required to remove all of the coal ash from all its unlined pits in South Carolina and from eight of its 14 unlined, leaking sites in North Carolina.  However, because Duke Energy has not completed ash removal from almost all its lagoons, it continues to violate the law at every site where it stores coal ash in the Carolinas.  Duke Energy’s engineers found no violations only at the two lagoons where Duke Energy has removed all of its ash.  At six locations in North Carolina, Duke Energy continues to try to leave its coal ash in unlined, leaking pits forever.

The Duke Energy filings cover Duke Energy’s W.S. Lee (Saluda River in Williamston) and Robinson (Lake Robinson in Darlington) South Carolina facilities, and these Duke Energy North Carolina facilities:  Allen (Lake Wylie), Asheville (French Broad River), Belews Creek (Dan River Basin in Stokes County), Buck (Yadkin River in Salisbury), Dan River (Eden), W.F. Lee (Neuse River in Goldsboro), Marshall (Lake Norman), Mayo (Dan River in Roxboro), Cliffside (Rogers) (Broad River in Cleveland and Rutherford Counties), Roxboro (Hyco River in Semora), Sutton (Cape Fear River in Wilmington), and Weatherspoon (Lumber River in Lumberton).  Duke Energy has made no filings for its Riverbend and Cape Fear coal ash lagoons because it states that they are not covered by the federal Coal Combustion Residuals Rule.  Duke Energy is required by court orders to excavate all the ash from those two sites.

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.southernenvironment.org.


Source: Frank Holleman, Southern Environmental Law Center

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